What is an Ascot?

Alan Rankin
Alan Rankin
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Woman shopping

An ascot, also called an ascot tie or a day cravat, is a kind of necktie that became popular in Great Britain during the late 19th century and early 20th century. It still is in use today, principally in England, for formal and semi-formal dress occasions. It is more widely known, however, for its use by the 1960s counterculture, particularly the "mod" styles common to what was then called Swinging London. It also is worn in movies and television by characters known for foppish or outrageous fashion choices, such as Mike Myers' spy spoof Austin Powers.

The ascot came into use among members of British high society in the late 19th century. It took its name from the Royal Ascot horse race, long a showcase for British fashion trends. It soon was an essential part of the formal attire known as "morning dress," worn around the world by the very wealthy and the very fashion-conscious. Its use declined in the early 20th century, although it is still acceptable as part of a morning-dress ensemble. In the 21st century, morning dress normally is worn for formal occasions such as weddings and affairs of state.

The ascot is shorter than a standard necktie, secured at the throat with a knot or pin, with wide ends that sometimes are secured under a jacket or shirt for formal occasions or left loose for casual wear. It usually is made of silk. Early versions were uniformly gray, but since the ascot has come into casual use, it can be any color or combination of colors; hippies who wore it in the 1960s were fond of bright colors in psychedelic patterns. The ascot also is part of the standard uniform for students at the United States Army Officer Candidate School and other military academies. When worn by military cadets, its colors must conform to officially sanctioned designs that depend on the cadet’s seniority.

Costume designers for movies and television shows sometimes use the ascot for characters who have an outdated or eccentric sense of fashion. The most famous example is Austin Powers, whose outfits are based on the fashions of Swinging London. Other examples include Fred in both the movie and cartoon versions of Scooby-Doo, and Don Knotts' character Ralph Furley in the 1970s TV series Three’s Company. In the 2010 film Toy Story 3, the Ken doll character wears an ascot, one of many subtle hints that the character is confused about his gender role.

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Discussion Comments


Most people define "ascot" in a way that doesn't differentiate it from a regular old necktie -- a knotted piece of fabric worn around the neck where the ends lie upon eachother flatly.


The ascot was worn also by the girls in preppie high school days. The effect was like a "fichu" or fill-in scarf, but a "fichu" was worn with dresses and ruffles and the ladies' ascot with sportswear. Its edges never showed, but were tucked beneath the shirt or sweater or vest, to fill in the neckline with colorful warmth.

I guess that the symbolism "gender role confusion" and the ascot might hold here, since we did not wear the ascot before or after puberty was done with us.

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